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ADL Letter to Members of the House Ways & Means Committee

  June 9, 2004

The Honorable William M. Thomas
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

ATTN: Ways and Means Committee Staff

Dear Representative Thomas:

On behalf of the Anti-Defamation League, we urge you to remove the "Safe Harbor for Churches" provisions from the "American Jobs Creation Act of 2004." Adoption of the proposed amendment would permit partisan political campaign activity by religious leaders and houses of worship. We believe this provision is unsound as a matter of constitutional law and unwise as a matter of public policy.

This amendment would create significant loopholes to 501(c)(3) political campaign restrictions for houses of worship and their clergy. During the 107th Congress, similar legislation, entitled the "Houses of Worship Political Speech Protection Act," attracted bipartisan opposition and failed by a vote of 178-239 on October 2, 2002. Like that previous legislation, the "Safe Harbor for Churches" provision threatens the integrity of our nation's houses of worship and political process:

The measure is unconstitutional. Current law prohibits all non-profit tax-exempt organizations from participating in or interfering with political campaigns. This measure would exempt only houses of worship from certain violations of 501(c)(3), as well as permit their clergy to make "private" endorsements of political candidates. We believe this legislation is unconstitutional because a cornerstone of the First Amendment is that the government cannot prefer religion over non-religion. Furthermore, it would entangle government with religion by forcing the IRS to determine whether a religious leader's endorsement is made in a private capacity. Moreover, given the amendment's dissimilar treatment of religious and secular groups, it also raises significant equal protection and viewpoint discrimination concerns.

The measure is bad public policy. By authorizing houses of worship a discrete number of "unintentional" political endorsements without losing their tax-exempt status, the amendment could foster substantial and unregulated tax-deductible indirect political contributions. It also raises the unseemly specter of religious institutions bartering votes for the promise of federal funds - as well as the possible cancellation of social service grants to punish recipients that endorsed losing candidates.

The measure is unnecessary. Supporters wrongly argue that, under current law, religious viewpoints are unduly muzzled in the public arena. Houses of worship, like other 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations, are currently permitted to speak out on the full scope of religious, political, and legislative advocacy -- and to actively support non-partisan voter participation and voter education initiatives. Houses of worship, like all tax-exempt non-profits, receive a substantial benefit from the government. As recipients of tax-deductible contributions, it is reasonable to require that all of these non-profits remain out of partisan politics.

In light of these considerations, we urge you to remove this unrelated, unnecessary, and harmful amendment from the legislation.

  Barbara B. Balser
National Chair

Abraham H. Foxman
National Director

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Related Materials
ADL Urges House Committee Members to Reject Amendment Allowing Houses of Worship to Endorse Candidates (6/9/04)
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